There are none so blind as those who will not see.
It is difficult to read George Dohrmann and David Epstein's expose of Ohio State without coming to the conclusion that Columbus has been awash in graft and corruption since the day Jim Tressel arrived on campus. The most surprising part of this story is that for nearly a decade, Jim Tressel was able to lead one of the most high profile programs in the country without anyone noticing these systemic violations.
If the three highest profile players of a big-time coach's career all got dinged by the NCAA, you would think that coach might be dirty. So why, after Maurice Clarett, and Terrelle Pryor all faced NCAA sanctions, did people still think Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was squeaky clean? Why, after Tressel admitted in March that he played ineligible players and lied to the NCAA about it, did people still rush to his defense, claiming him an otherwise perfect coach who made one little mistake?
Dohrmann and Epstein unwittingly explain why Tressel was able to get away with it for so long. Tressel was able to reel in Florida recruits from 800 miles away and take a high profile but floundering program from the fringe of the top 25 to a national title in two years without anyone batting an eye for one reason: He coached in the Big Ten.
Columbus may be north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and Ohio State may be a Big Ten school, but the manner in which the city's inhabitants seek to associate with members of the football team is seen more often in Southeastern Conference towns such as Tuscaloosa and Knoxville.
Even in a piece that details ongoing and widespread corruption at a Big Ten program and the coach's previous 1-AA home in Ohio, the writers thought it appropriate to connect the cheating to the SEC.
The most recent cases of widespread football violations took place at Southern Cal, North Carolina, and Ohio State. To my knowledge, none of those are SEC programs. Most football fans believe (and hope) it is only a matter of time til the SEC's Auburn is added to that list, and there is also a widespread belief outside of the Pacific Northwest that Oregon bought more with their Nike money than the nation's most garish uniforms. If something comes of the smoke in Auburn and Eugene, that would make the SEC responsible for a whopping 20% of the nation's recent high-profile football scandals. That is a much smaller percentage than the conference's share of recent national titles.
Nevertheless, in some circles, the SEC continues to face an assumption of guilt that is not applied to successful programs outside the conference. It was comforting for some to believe that Big Ten standard bearer Ohio State, though maligned for their high profile failures against SEC programs, was somehow guilty of nothing more than doing things the right way. With Senator Tressel manning the helm, it was only natural that Ohio State would come up short against SEC programs willing to bend or break the rules to win a football game.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was perhaps the most high profile proponent of this meme, infamously defending the Buckeyes and his league's honor after another series of faceplants:
I wish we had (seven) teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process
Since he came to power, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has made no secret of a desire to clean up the league's image, and has pushed for reforms at every turn. Does anyone seriously believe violations as widespread and poorly hidden as those in Columbus would have gone unnoticed in Mike Slive's SEC?
In contrast, the Big Ten's Delany has chosen to pretend cheating is someone else's (the SEC's) problem. Delany's arrogance enabled Jim Tressel, and the commissioner bears a small share of the blame. By pushing the story that his conference is clean and pure as the driven snow, Delany provided cover for Tressel to continue the pattern of cheating that allowed him to build a 1-AA power at Youngstown State before taking over in Columbus.
The reason no one outside of SEC fans recognized the obvious signs of a renegade program in Columbus is no one else wanted to see it.